Is brown sugar better than white sugar?

No. We should be cutting back on all free sugars.

The debate about sweeteners is far from settled, and scientists continue to study the impact of all types of sugars on human health. A multitude of studies are exploring the effects of fructose, glucose, and sucrose on insulin sensitivity, cholesterol levels, abdominal fat and heart disease – to name a few. But the one thing everyone agrees on is that eating excess amounts of sugar will inevitably lead to health problems.

In fact, the World Health Organization recommended in 2015 that “adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10 % of total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (5 lumps of sugar) per day would provide additional health benefits.”

Have you ever tallied how much sugar you consume a day? Here’s an example: sugar makes up almost half the weight of your typical chocolate bar. One 46-gram chocolate bar of Cailler’s “La Branche Crémant” contains 20.6 grams of sugar; that is the equivalent to 4 lumps of sugar, and up to 80% of the recommended daily intake. Flavored yoghurt typically contains at least 11 grams of sugar, just over 2 lumps.

The WHO guidelines refer to “free sugars”, which are monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.”

From this point of view, both white sugar and brown sugar are free sugars and should be cut back regardless of the plant used to produce it. White sugar is just pure sucrose, and so the color of sugar depends on whether or not it contains impurities. Sugar beets produce almost exclusively white sugar during the first phase of crystallization, but the sugar can be further processed with prolonged heating to produce caramel compounds, turning the sugar brown in color (sold as “vergeoise” sugar). Sugarcane produces primarily brown sugar during the first cycle of crystallization due to the presence of pigments in the plant (sold as “cassonade” sugar). But often, cane sugar is further refined to remove impurities to obtain white sugar.

The healthy alternative to sugar? “Yoghurt or cottage cheese, with fresh or dried fruit, 2 teaspoons of honey or jam,” suggests chief dietician Muriel Paclet Lafaille of CHUV’s Nutrition Clinic. “Fruit is always a great snack; either fresh, in a salad, or as a sauce. Or a slice of bread with some cheese.”

Lafaille also recommends avoiding sugar substitutes altogether – often recommended by nutrition trends and fad diets – since some of these alternatives may lead to gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea and flatulence. The best strategy is to curb sugar cravings by learning to be satisfied with less sweetness.

“It is about perception,” says Lafaille. “It is about changing your eating habits and re-training your taste buds to appreciate less sugar. Opt for plain yoghurt instead of sweetened ones, consume whole foods. These habits will help you to gain control of the amount of sugar you eat.”

1 lump of sugar = 5 grams

1 teaspoon of sugar = 4 grams



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